Bible in One Year

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March 22 Day 81

Always Be Generous

Generosity is a beautiful characteristic in people. We love and admire generosity. My mother used to urge us as children, ‘Always be generous.’

How do you think of God? Do you think of him as a little bit mean or tight-fisted? Or do you think of him as extraordinarily generous?

God’s generosity is seen in the natural world. For example, there are over 25,000 varieties of orchids. The orchid is just one of 270,000 species of flowers. God does not do things by halves. In our galaxy there are over 100 billion stars like our sun. Our galaxy is one of over 100 billion galaxies. It is thought that for every grain of sand there are a million stars. In a throwaway line in Genesis, the writer tells us, ‘He also made the stars’ (Genesis 1:16).

God is extraordinarily, extravagantly generous. David speaks of God’s ‘… river of delights’ (Psalm 36:8b). He ‘gives generously to all’ (James 1:5). If God is so generous to us, we also should ‘always be generous’.

March 21 Day 80

How to Resist Temptation

The Sirens were three mysterious women who, according to Homer’s Odyssey, lived on an island. Whenever a ship passed by, they would stand on the cliffs and sing. Their beautiful song would tempt sailors closer and closer, until eventually they were shipwrecked on the rocks below.

Odysseus was curious to hear the Sirens’ song, but was well aware of the dangers. He ordered his men to tie him to the mast as they approached the island and then to plug their own ears with beeswax. When Odysseus heard the Siren call he demanded to be untied, but his shipmates bound him tighter, releasing him only when then the danger had passed.

The story explores the powerful pull we all feel at times to flirt with choices that we know are bad, and even destructive. No one can go through life without being tempted. Temptation is not sin; Jesus was ‘without sin’, yet even he was ‘tempted in every way, just as we are’ (Hebrews 4:15).

March 20 Day 79

God is Good - All the Time

Of all the prisons Pippa and I have visited around the world, this was the worst. It is in Lusaka, Zambia. The prison was built in 1950 for 250 men. Today it holds over 1,300. The cells, which were built to hold 50, are now home to over 150 men. They are locked in these cells from eight o’clock at night until eight o’clock in the morning. There isn’t enough room for all of them to lie down at the same time. They have to take it in turns. The stench and the heat in those cells must be almost unbearable. If the prisoners do not have AIDS or tuberculosis when they enter the prison, they are likely to become infected soon after.

The cells surround a courtyard, which is at the centre of the prison. We held a service there. Maybe because there was nothing else to do, virtually every one of the inmates attended. The service was led by a man who had been awaiting trial for four years. He was a Christian pastor who was accused of some minor offence (for which the penalty in England would probably have been a small fine, had he been convicted). Though he may well have been innocent, this man had been languishing in a prison for four years, unconvicted, without trial, not knowing when he would be released – if ever.

I will never forget his opening words as he began to lead the service: ‘God is good – all the time.’ Here was a man who had absolute confidence in the goodness of God, not because of his circumstances but in spite of them. He knew and had experienced the goodness of God in the midst of great suffering. As a result, even though he found himself in the appalling conditions of this prison, he followed Jesus’ example and ‘went around doing good’ (Acts 10:38).

As John Wesley said, ‘Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.’

March 19 Day 78

How to Develop Intimacy with God

The life and ministry of the American pastor, John Wimber, has had a great influence on my own life, our church and many other churches around the world.

He said, ‘The ability to hear what God is saying, to see what God is doing, and to move in the realm of the miraculous comes as an individual develops the same intimacy with and dependence upon the Father [as Jesus had].’ How did Jesus do what he did? The answer is found in his relationship with the Father. How will we do the ‘greater things than these’ which Jesus promised (John 14:12)? By discovering the same relationship of intimacy, simplicity and obedience.

God loves you with an intimacy that surpasses all your dreams. He wants you to have a close, personal relationship with him of intimacy, simplicity and obedience. This is an extraordinary honour and privilege. Moses, David and, of course, Jesus had an intimate relationship with God. But how do you develop intimacy with God?

March 18 Day 77

Saviour

The world is looking for a saviour. The Canadian musician, Lights, expresses this in the lyrics of her song, ‘Saviour’:

‘The night is deafening,
When the silence is listening,
And I’m down on my knees,
And I know that something is missing

Sooner than later, I’ll need a saviour,
I’ll need a saviour...

‘Lecrae’ (Moore), is a rapper, entrepreneur, record-producer and actor. He speaks for many of us when he says, ‘I’m not a Christian because I’m strong and have it all together. I’m a Christian because I’m weak and admit I need a saviour.’

The amazing truth of Christianity is that in Jesus you do have a saviour. How should you respond to this extraordinary good news?

March 17 Day 76

If the Grass Looks Greener, It's Probably Astro Turf

A campaign by one online agency offered a dating service for married men and women who wanted to have an affair. The agency is by no means alone in this market. What was different was that they executed an extensive advertising campaign specifically on massive billboards next to motorways with the slogan, ‘The grass is always greener.’

Essentially, they were making money feeding on people’s weaknesses and helping them to be unfaithful. This may seem attractive, but the reality is that it can ruin the lives of the individuals involved, as well as the lives of their partners, their families and their children.

Jesus puts faithfulness alongside justice and mercy (Matthew 23:23). Faithfulness is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22). Mother Teresa said, ‘I am not called to be successful but to be faithful.’

God’s faithfulness towards us gives us an example to follow in our own relationships. Faithfulness is something we should strive for in marriage, friendships and in our relationship with God.

March 16 Day 75

What God Has in Store for You

Sam, aged twenty-three, was a militant atheist. He associated himself with the teachings of fervent opponents of faith and religion. One evening, he went online and discovered that Alpha was about to start within easy access of his home. He turned up to our church thinking, ‘I’m going to take down a few irrational Christians here.’

But his encounter with the teachings and person of Jesus Christ was not what he expected.

On his questionnaire at the end of the course, he wrote, ‘I found the draw of Jesus irresistible and have gone from [being] someone with no faith to someone with an immense hope. To live in a state of non-truth to living in truth is, to me, the difference between being bound to complete freedom.’

Three months later, he was baptised. He told me, ‘I’m free of my previous life. I was a slave to a lot of things. I was a slave to society, a slave to my peers... But now I’m free to live my life. I’m excited to see what God’s got in store for me.’ Salvation means freedom. Sam had an experience of how Jesus Christ sets us free.

March 15 Day 74

You Have the Favour of God

In my first year at university, aged eighteen, I read the entire New Testament in a week – from Matthew to Revelation – and became convinced, ‘it is true’. But I was reluctant to follow Jesus, as I thought my life would be very dull and that I would have to give up all enjoyment. In fact, it was the exact opposite. I found something even better than happiness.

We all want to live happy lives. ‘Happiness,’ wrote Aristotle, ‘is the meaning and purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.’ But there is something even better, greater and deeper than happiness. Happiness is dependent on what happens – our circumstances. Joy is far deeper and is not so dependent on our outward circumstances. It is a blessing from God. Joy is the characteristic of an encounter with Jesus even in his mother’s womb (Luke 1:44).

Today’s New Testament passage uses a Greek word that we translate ‘blessed’. It means to be the privileged recipient of God’s favour, and to be fortunate and happy because of it. The Amplified Bible describes it as being ‘happy, to be envied, and spiritually prosperous – with life-joy and satisfaction in God’s favour and salvation, regardless of their outward conditions’ (Matthew 5:3, AMP).

March 14 Day 73

The Battles of Life

The Christian life is a battle. I have been following Jesus for four decades. As I look back at these years, they have been years of great blessing – more than I could have asked or even imagined. At the same time, there have been many challenges and obstacles. There have been very few periods when I have not been facing some kind of battle.

The nature of these battles has varied enormously. There have been internal battles – times of intense temptation, doubt, fear and anxiety. There have been times of deep sadness, great loss and bereavement. There have been battles over health, sleep, finances, work and relationships. There have been periods of great opposition and criticism.

Fr Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher to the Papal household, speaks of our battle being against a triple alliance: the world (‘the enemy around us’), the flesh (‘the enemy within us’), and the devil (‘the enemy above us’).

How can you navigate these spiritual battles of life?

March 13 Day 72

Love Boundaries

I remember, years ago, a football match that had been arranged involving twenty-two young boys (including one of my sons, aged eight at the time). A friend of mine, Andy, was going to referee. Unfortunately, by 2.30 pm he had not turned up. The boys could wait no longer.

I was press-ganged into being the substitute referee. But, I had no whistle, there were no markings for the boundaries of the pitch and I did not know the rules nearly as well as some of the boys.

The game soon descended into complete chaos. Some shouted that the ball was in. Others said that it was out. I wasn’t at all sure, so I let things run. Then the fouls started. Some cried, ‘Foul.’ Others said, ‘No foul.’ I didn’t know who was right. So I let them play on. Then people began to get hurt. By the time Andy arrived, there were three boys lying ‘injured’ on the ground and all the rest were shouting, mainly at me!

But the moment Andy arrived, he blew his whistle, arranged the teams, told them where the boundaries were and had them under complete control. The boys then enjoyed a great game of football.

Were the boys freer without the rules, or were they in fact less free? Without any effective authority, they could do exactly what they wanted. But people were confused and hurt. They much preferred it when the game was played according to the rules. Then they were free to enjoy the game. The rules of football are not designed to take away the fun of the game. They are designed to enable the game to be enjoyed to the full.

God’s ‘rules’ are his boundaries for life, given out of his love for us. His boundaries are not designed to restrict our freedom but rather to give us freedom. Like the rules of football, they do not stop the enjoyment of the game. Rather, they enable the game of life to be enjoyed to the full.